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With seven Primetime Emmy Awards – including several nominations for this year – Breaking Bad is one of the most highly-ranked TV series of our time. Debashine Thangevelo caught up with lead actor Bryan Cranston to find out more about this brilliant crime drama series…
WHETHER on TV or the big screen, Bryan Cranston has bagged some plum roles during his 30 years in the industry.
His notable film projects include Saving Private Ryan, Little Miss Sunshine, The Lincoln Lawyer, Drive, Larry Crowne, Contagion, John Carter, Rock of Ages, Total Recall and Argo. And that doesn’t overshadow his small screen credits for The King of Queens, Malcolm in the Middle, Fallen and a myriad guest appearances on several hit shows but, honestly, his resume is too long to do complete justice to it.
That he bagged three consecutive Emmys for Best Actor attests to the impact of his role as Walter White, a chemistry teacher with terminal lung cancer who, to ensure his family’s financial security, enters the perilous methamphetamine business.
As for whether he expected the series to explode in the way it has, he jokes: “No. I gave that up a quarter-of-a-century ago. It’s a folly of newcomers to try and predict what works and what doesn’t. It’s such a waste of energy.
“All we can do is the best we can and focus on our work. You need to have a tremendous amount of luck to get a show that people respond to and that stays on more than 10 episodes – or six years.”
The crime drama offers viewers a glimpse into White’s two worlds: one is volatile and attracts many dangers, one of which is the pos- sibility of the kybosh being put to his operation and him being thrown behind bars. The other looks at how his good intentions to ensure his family’s security end up causing more fractures in his marriage and costing him the thing he values most.
Commenting on the global success of the show, he says: “The thing that really resonates is the honesty. We’re depicting a tale of one man’s decision-making. Walter White is like a cancer himself. He infects everybody around him, to the point where his wife Skyler has her own morality tested. And she fails, because now she is culpable.
“Certainly, Saul Goodman and Jesse Pinkman, Gus Fring and Mike Ehrmantraut – these are all the people Walt infects, whom he creates danger for. It isn’t just physical danger, but emotional danger, too.
“If you can depict that in an honest way and present that to the world and let them decide, they’ll tell you. I think what works is that our show has international sensibility. It isn’t germane to simply American points of view; it’s universal. It is the way human beings think, act and feel. We are sometimes good, we are sometimes bad.”
On slipping into the psyche of White for six years, he offers: “Oh God, it (the challenges) never stopped. He didn’t sit down and read the paper and have a cup of coffee – he was fighting for his life. The whole series takes place in two years, and these two years of Walt’s life have been the most he’s ever lived. Some of it was terrible, but some wasn’t so terrible. Some of it, I think, Walt wouldn’t trade in. As a man, it was powerful and exciting. He was able to intimidate another human being.
“That’s pretty powerful. That’s an aphrodisiac to the man. He had a pocketful of money for the first time. He was respected and feared. Those are very tempting things for someone to take in. It got into Walt’s ego, and like a bird, his plumage came out. I never had a chance to relax, though, nor did I want to!”
Reflecting on the scene that will for ever remain with him, he says: “The one that comes to mind is the scene where I allow Jesse’s girl- friend, Jane, to die when she’s choking on her own vomit. I was able to go through myriad emotions, as one would. I wanted to be conflicted and vacillate between what’s right and what’s wrong…”
Naturally, in playing a grey character like this – and doing so with such conviction – Cranston has created a role that will for ever shadow his career.
He notes: “I’m somewhat overwhelmed at how it has all just sort of exploded. Initially, I was attracted to the character and the scope of the show, and staying within those myopic terms. I didn’t focus or pay any attention to whether we were going to be a hit. When I heard the news that people were responding, I thought it was fantastic. It means I get to play some more. But I can’t pay attention to that. What has happened with Breaking Bad is that this character and this show have hit a chord, and that has resonated with regular viewers as well as viewers who are in the entertainment industry.
“When I meet people and they want to work with me, I’m flattered and excited about those prospects. It’s now up to me to carefully pick and choose where I should land.”
One thing is certain though, after this brilliantly conflicted and somewhat menacing role, writers will have to raise the bar with any character they give him next.
• Breaking Bad 6 airs on M-Net Series Showcase (DStv channel 113) on Sundays at 10.30pm.